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South Austin Silent Night

Christmas albums local and otherwise.

By Jim Caligiuri, 2:24PM, Wed. Dec. 7, 2011

South Austin Silent Night

So many new holiday albums get released every year – some arriving as early as August – that it could be an industry in itself. Here’s what topped the stack this year, some local, some national, some holly jolly.

At the top of the holiday food chain is Holiday HAAM Jam. Featuring dozens of local acts (Shelley King, Jon Dee Graham, Vallejo, Kevin & Dustin Welch, Wendy Colonna, etc.), it’s an inspired mix of old and new. With the proceeds benefiting the Health Alliance for Austin Area Musicians, it’s could serve as an entree to the variety of Austin’s music scene.

Carolyn Wonderland and Guy Forsyth’s Fireside Songs for the Soul is a live recording, mostly from a 2009 appearance at the One World Theatre. Including three tracks from a KUT broadcast, it’s a merry rock & blues affair, true to both performers' nature with a heartfelt and off-kilter take of John Prine’s “Christmas in Prison” that shines.

Rootsy California transplants Shurman bring the family on their Holiday Album, with guest turns from members of Blues Traveler, the Mother Truckers, Stonehoney, and Roger Cline’s Peacemakers. It's a little more rambunctious than standard holiday fare, but the twang and burn quotient on the instrumental “South Austin Silent Night” is just about right.

On the opposite side of what a Christmas LP could be is Karen Mal & Will Taylor’s A Mandolin Christmas. Find on it traditional songs performed in a manner so stately one can almost feel the Christmas morning frost. Mal’s mandolin and Taylor’s guitar go jazzy at times, but this is as old-fashioned as it gets these days and it just might be my favorite of the year.

Nationally, Tony Bennett’s Classic Christmas Album collects 17 songs from his four holiday albums, chosen by the crooner himself, with one new recording, “What Child is This.” It's a respectable cross section of his ability to work in a variety of settings, including some with Count Basie’s band that swing tastefully enough to bring the spirit even if you’ve heard these songs thousands of times already.

While not quite as well known as Bennett, Nashville’s Mandy Barnett possesses the same vocal flair and she brings a rare brand of charisma and tenderness to Winter Wonderland. A production that follows the formula of a bygone era, think Christmas discs from Perry Como or Connie Francis, Barnett’s clear and strong vocals are perfectly matched to gooey, at times twang-filled, arrangements of such standard fare as “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “Jingle Bell Rock.” Worth seeking out.

Then there’s A Very She & Him Christmas, where M. Ward and Zooey Deschannel prove that although hipsters may want to celebrate the season, they’re incapable of real joy. I was hoping this would have a kitsch factor along the lines of the Waitresses, but unfortunately for all involved its doesn’t.

Keb Mo’s The Spirit of the Holiday EP is notable for “Shopping On Christmas Eve,” an original blues that captures the state of many in our post-Great Recession America. With his tongue firmly in cheek, KM sings of heading to the Dollar Store late on December 24th to which some will certainly smile and nod their head in recognition.

Here's Shelley King doing “Christmas in Austin” from the HAAM disc.

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